On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we honor the sovereignty, resilience, and immense contributions that Native Americans have made to the world; and we recommit to upholding our solemn trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations, strengthening our Nation-to-Nation ties....
--- President Joseph R Biden Jr
Indigenous Peoples' Day is a great time to remember that the Waccamaw Indian People, based in South Carolina, are still working to achieve recognition as an official Indian tribe by the United States government.
"I don't think there should be any official recognition of a person required
before you can have rights like everyone else. But I've got to play their game
so my people can have the same rights of every other American. We don’t own this world. We’re just renting it from our children."
Those are the words of Chief Harold Hatcher in a documentary video that we produced making the case for federal recognition, a step that Hatcher believes is essential to the future of his people. We reprise that video today.
"I was shot in Vietnam. I received the Purple Heart and many other awards, but still I cannot get this recognition for my people," says Hatcher in the video.
The documentary traces the history of the Waccamaws, from 1689 when the first Waccamaw is noted in history. European explorers later came ashore and enslaved many natives, taking over their land. Now, descendants of those indigent people continue to fight for recognition by the American government.
"It's as if they are invisible, like they don't even exist," the narrator says.
Although the Waccamaw Indian People were recognized in 2005 by the State of South Carolina as an official Indian tribe, the U.S. Government will not accept the same documentation to provide federal recognition. Instead, the government requires that the Waccawmaws show unbroken lineage from the earliest known Waccamaw until today. It is a burden that is impossible to meet, as the video explains.
"We call it documentary genocide," says Chief Hatcher.
One of the unfair results of the refusal of the federal government to recognize them is their inability to practice religion as they choose. Many of their ancestors' remains are housed in boxes on museum shelves in South Carolina and cannot be given proper burial, including using an eagle feather, as their rituals require.
"All over South Carolina there are over 600 sets of Indian remains on shelves in museums. These are my ancestors...that now belong to the federal government for some reason and the federal government does not want to release those remains to a state recognized tribe," explains Chief Hatcher. "Cardboard boxes have become the burial shrouds and museum shelves the resting place for our Waccamaw ancestors."
The documentary was supported, in part, by a grant from the South Carolina Arts Commission and a Go Fund Me campaign that included contributions from many of our readers. I produced, wrote and narrated the video, which was shot, directed and edited by award winning videographer David Hinshaw, of Atlanta, GA.